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Early treatment can slow vision loss from macular degeneration

Published On: Jan 02 2014 02:31:49 PM CST   Updated On: Jan 15 2014 04:14:14 PM CST


By Mayo Clinic News Network

ROCHESTER, Minn. — Macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss in older adults. According to an issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter, early detection and improved treatment options are making it possible to delay vision loss and potentially preserve vision.

Age-related macular degeneration is a chronic eye disease that can affect the central area of the field of vision. It occurs when the tissue deteriorates in the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision.

For many people, the first symptoms may be blurriness. Printed material may be harder to read and street signs may be more difficult to recognize. Colors may be less bright. Recognizing faces may become difficult as gray or blank spots develop in the central vision. Straight lines may appear bent or irregular.

Any of these changes should prompt a visit to the eye doctor, who can diagnose macular degeneration and determine the type — dry or wet.

Dry: This form is much more common and occurs as the tissues in the macula age and become thinner. While the condition can't be reversed, it generally progresses slowly and most people carry on relatively normal lives. An eye doctor may recommend high-dose supplements of certain antioxidants and minerals. This treatment has been shown to modestly reduce the risk of progression for some patients with moderate or advanced macular degeneration.

Wet: This form occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow from the choroid, which is the normal layer of blood vessels between the retina and the outer firm coat of the eye (sclera). These blood vessels cause problems as they grow into the macular portion of the retina. In the advanced stages, wet macular degeneration can lead to irreversible loss of vision.

Symptoms of wet macular degeneration usually appear suddenly and may progress rapidly, making prompt medical treatment critical. Treatment often involves injecting into the eye a medication that blocks the signals causing new blood vessel growth. Injections may be performed monthly for a long time, even years.

This therapy has been a tremendous advancement in care for patients with wet macular degeneration, often replacing laser treatments previously used to close abnormal blood vessels.


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